Category Archives: Chicago Police Department

Hot Air: Can You Dig It?

Intelligent Or Not?

Despite my daily bellyaching about the dopes who are running for prez and the lunatics who populate this holy land, I really believe we’re living in the very coolest days.

For instance, astronomers from MIT and Belgium’s University of Liège, working together, have determined that three planets orbiting a nearby ultracool dwarf star have similar temperatures and sizes to the Earth and Venus and maybe — just maybe — can support life.

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Artist’s Conception of Nearby Dwarf Star & Its Planets

Now, these space geeks are using the term ultracool to describe the actual thermometer readings on the little star and its planets. Me? I’ll use the term to describe…, well, how freaking ultracool the whole damned thing is.

The astronomers will study these exoplanets closely because they’re only 40 light years away, which translates to just a few blocks more than 235 trillion miles. Hell, in cosmological terms, that’s nothing, like the distance between Starbucks in [pick your town].

Now what if scientists determine there’s life on one of these hunks o’rock? Well, first, we have to establish precisely what life is. Honestly, that’s the huge philosophical quandary researchers are grappling with these days. There’s a dizzying array of criteria that various smart gals and guys insist are the real deal. For instance, the walking brains at New Mexico Tech are convinced these are the seven criteria:

  1. Living things are composed of cells. I have loads of them.
  2. Individual living things are constructed of a ascending set of organizations, from cells, to tissues, to organs, and –finally, to each organism. That latter category would include you and me.
  3. Living things use energy. Even I do, on occasion.
  4. Living things respond to their environment. Me too, except when I’m taking a nap.
  5. Living things grow. You should see my waist size.
  6. Living things reproduce. Nope, not me.
  7. Living things adapt to their environment. Except when I refuse to; remember, I’m a contrarian.

I dunno. NMT’s list of criteria seems too vague. Hell, rocks respond to their environment. Have you ever picked up a smooth pebble on a beach?

NASA’s Phoenix Mars Mission page posits its own seven properties of life:

  1. Order: Molecules in living things are arranged in specific structures.
  2. Reproduction: Living things have the ability to reproduce their own kind.
  3. Growth and Development: Living organisms grow and develop in patterns determined by heredity, the traits passed to offspring by parents.
  4. Energy Utilization: Living things need to capture and use energy, a process known as metabolism.
  5. Response to stimuli.
  6. Evolutionary adaptation.

See? Already we’ve got a debate going on. Here, lemme try to settle it; in my readings, I’ve determined these five criteria define life or, more accurately, the properties of a living thing:

  1. Ability to build DNA, ATP, Ribosomes, & proteins
  2. Active metabolism
  3. Growth
  4. Reproduction
  5. Evolution (mutation & selection)

Then again, we can’t even agree on what is life here on Earth. To wit: Is a virus alive? Is the entire planet and all living things on it really a single living entity, as put forward in the Gaia hypothesis?

In any case, what might we discover on these three planets 40 light years away? A civilization that has developed agriculture, technology, and the game of baseball? Or some slime on a rock face?

You know very well you, I, and everybody else around wants us to find a thriving civilization, just so we can show off to them our cat pix on social media. I’m afraid, though, the first ironclad proof of life on another planet will look something like this:

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Sure, I’d be excited about these guys. A little bit. Well, nah, not really. This’d pretty much be a bummer.

Anticlimax or no, we’re going to find life on another planet sooner rather than later. That, babies, is ultracool.


Well, sure, there’s life here on planet Earth but is it intelligent life?

I wonder.

Take my beloved hometown of Chicago. Acc’d’g to a recent piece in The Nation, the City of Chi. has pissed away more than $600 million on police complaint settlements in the last dozen years.

The city could have used that half a bill.-plus, funding municipal employee pensions, rebuilding infrastructure, or giving teachers a fat raise.

Instead, Chi.’s cops fire away at unarmed dark-skinned young men, beat like red-headed stepchildren others, and arrest grannies and harmless protesters with impunity. Many, many, many of these recipients of Chicago police excesses sue the city and then collect massive payouts to settle.

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Wouldn’t it be a tad more cost effective to train the goddamned police the right way and weed out the bad apples on the force?

For pity’s sake, when beings from another planet looks at the Earth — specifically, Chi. — in their own search for intelligent life, they’ll equate us all with the aforementioned slime on a rock face.


New World monkey George Zimmerman is back in the news. Apparently, the guy who killed Trayvon Martin  more than four years ago, got his pistol back from prosecutors because, y’know, under this holy land’s Wild, Wild, West laws, pumping a guy full of lead is no big deal. So the gun, which had been evidence, now is safely back in the hands of the racist, paranoiac, pointer of guns at girlfriends, estranged wives, and the fathers, road-rager, and otherwise teeterer on the brink of violence and mayhem.

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Georgie-boy seems always to need money, mainly because this benighted nation does not recognize a hero in its midst and refuses to properly recompense him simply for being itchy with his trigger finger. He’s sold a bunch of jingoistic, puerile paintings and now — oh yeah — will auction off the gun.

The bidding, on a site called, starts at $5000. Don’t worry, you haven’t been left in the dust — or gunpowder — as the bidding will begin this AM at 11.

My guess is a successful bid will come in at a level a hell of a lot higher than a paltry 5K. There are enough people in this nation who view Zimmerman as a great man that, if you really think about it, would cause you to toss and turn all night long.

Zimmerman’s description of the firearm includes the following lines:

Prospective bidders, I am honored and humbled to announce the sale of an American Firearm Icon. The firearm for sale is the firearm that was used to defend my life and end the brutal attack from Trayvon Martin on 2/26/2012….

Many have expressed interest in owning and displaying the firearm including The Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. This is a piece of American History….

The firearm is fully functional as the attempts by the Department of Justice on behalf of B. Hussein Obama to render the firearm inoperable were thwarted by my phenomenal Defense Attorney….

On this day, 5/11/2016 exactly one year after the shooting attempt to end my life by BLM sympathizer Matthew Apperson I am proud to announce that a portion of the proceeds will be used to: fight BLM violence against Law Enforcement officers, ensure the demise of Angela Correy’s persecution career and Hillary Clinton’s anti-firearm rhetoric….

Now is your opportunity to own a piece of American History. Good Luck. Your friend, George M. Zimmerman….

Someone soon will proudly possess this symbol of Murrica’s sheer lunacy and Georgie-boy himself will have a pocketful of blood money.

We’re nuts.

May 12th Birthdays

Cosimo II de’ Medici — Scion of the 15th Century Florentine ruling family, Cosimo as a youngster was sent to study under the then-relatively unknown Galileo Galilei. He recognized the scientist’s genius and became Galileo’s financial patron.

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Florence Nightingale — She professionalized nursing and was instrumental in the founding of the world’s first secular nursing school at London’s St. Thomas Hospital. A tireless reformer, she pushed for programs to feed the hungry, strove to eliminate laws against sex workers, and advocated women joining the workforce.


Dante Gabriel Rossetti — 19th Century British poet and painter and the brother of poet Christina Rossetti. His illustrations of his own and others’ poetry stood as inspiration for the development of Aestheticism, an arts movement away from social issues and toward sheer visual beauty.

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Katharine Hepburn — Named the Top Female Legend from American film history by the American Film Institute.

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Dorothy Hodgkin — 1964 Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry for her development of protein crystallography. Later, she identified the structure of insulin. Her interest in wealth inequality led her to hang around the fringes of communism. She also fought for world peace, becoming president of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs.

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Mary Kay Ash — Frustrated by women’s second-class status in the workplace, she founded Mary Kay Cosmetics partly as a way to help women succeed financially and in business. Her business plans always stressed women helping women.

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Burt Bacharach — He knew the way to San Jose.


Bacharach With Dionne Warwick In Background

Tom Snyder — Late night talk show host described in National Lampoon magazine as the “living room gibbon.”


George Carlin — One of the funniest — and most serious — people ever to grace a stage.

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Bebel Gilberto — Isabel Gilberto de Oliveira, Brazilian singer and composer, daughter of Joao Gilberto and Miúcha. Joao, collaborating with Antonio Carlos Jobim, was at the forefront of the development of bossa nova and Miúcha was herself a beloved Brazilian singer. Bebel has become a star in her own right and has worked with the likes of David Byrne and Stan Getz. Her style ranges from electronic bossa nova to acoustic lounge.

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And finally, ah, I didn’t care much about anybody who died on this date.


Hot Air

What Cops Do

Really, calling the cops is white people’s security blanket.

Your home gets burglarized, you call the cops. You do this even though you know they’re not gonna put three shifts on the case to track down your flat screen. Still, you feel better when they show up.

You get into an accident, you call the cops. They come by and take your report — something you could have done simply by driving to the nearest police station. When they show up, you feel as though justice will be served as they haul in the idiot who slammed into your hot rod. Which, of course, they don’t do.

Some lunkheads start pounding each other out on the sidewalk, you call the cops. By the time the squad car rolls up, the lunkheads are gone. The cops tell you they’ll keep a lookout for them. Sure.

The cops are there, mainly, to hold your hand. They make you feel safe. They give you the illusion that the scary, chaotic incident you just witnessed or experienced is really under control, their control — your friends, the men in blue. Now you can go back to sleep.

It’s not that way for people living in black slums. Most residents of tough, poor, inner-city neighborhoods are afraid to open their doors to the cops. This was brought home dramatically Saturday when Chicago police, responded to a call about an emotionally disturbed young man raising hell in his father’s apartment on the city’s West Side. The young man, Quintonio LeGrier, was running down the stairs of the apartment building while carrying a baseball bat when one or more of the responding officers opened fire, hitting the college student with six slugs. A seventh shot took the life of a 55-year-old mother of five, Bettie Jones, who’d opened her apartment door to see what all the fuss was about.

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Bettie Jones

The kid LeGrier had lived a horseshit life. He’d been abandoned by both parents and was the victim of physical abuse. He’d recently lost a close foster brother to a random shooting. He’d also had a very recent history of troubles, allegedly being involved in three separate scuffles at Northern Illinois University where he was studying electrical engineering. He’d experienced alarming mood swings in recent months.


Quintonio LeGrier

The crisis called for caring professionals with special training in handling emotionally disturbed individuals. Problem was the only people who came to the West Side apartment house were cops carrying loaded firearms, cops whose first impulse was to squeeze their triggers.

What is it that would cause a cop to open fire on an emotionally disturbed young man carrying a baseball bat? Other than his skin color, natch. And it really doesn’t matter if the shooting officers were white or black, the racist culture within the police department of Chicago and pretty much every force around this holy land trumps racial brotherhood. Black cops are just as petrified of crazy niggers as white cops are today. Because, really, that’s all young black men are anymore — to a certain segment of society.

Bettie Jones’s childhood friend Jaqueline Walker had a question for the cops in the aftermath of the shootings: “Why you got to shoot first and ask questions later?”

Quintonio LeGrier’s mother posed her own heart-breaking query about the cops in the wake of her son’s death. “What are they trained for? Just to kill?”

Hot Air

One Shot, One Year

For my money, this is the picture of the year, 2015:


[Image: John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune, November 25, 2015]

That’s a young fellow named Lamon Reccord, a participant in street protests against Chicago police brutality and the killings of black people in general around this holy land. The protests broke out this fall in the aftermath of the release of a video showing a CPD officer shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times on a South Side street some 13 months earlier.

This particular confrontation took place at the corner of State and Randolph streets in the Loop the day after the video footage was released. Reccord already had gained national notoriety when he was video’d staring down another Chicago cop the day before. He’s either a symbol of morally-justified resistance to police racism and the use of deadly force or he’s a troublemaking punk, depending on where you stand on police/black relations in Murrica these days.

Loyal Pencillistas know where I stand.


Correct me if I’m wrong, lawyers and military experts, but if Sy Hersh is right about this*, Gen. Martin Dempsey has committed a clear violation of military chain of command, putting the himself at risk of court-martial, incarceration, and even death. It seems like treason, pure and simple. It doesn’t matter if the president’s decision is right or wrong. That’s not how the military works. In fact, it borders on a coup.

And, really, haven’t you been expecting one or another Obama opponent to lead some kind of mutiny, even at this late date in his presidency?

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Dempsey (L) & Hersh

Remember when the big panic going around held that Obama was secretly planning to get us involved in a big war or some such emergency so that he could declare martial law and remain in office even after his term(s) expired? Then again, that particular paranoiac delusion might well have gotten lost in the flood of all the other psychotic reactionary hallucinations to Obama’s election. There were so many of them, after all.

In any case, at least one reactionary was sure to commit some act of overthrow, given all the panic surrounding the first black prez.

[ * Just in case you’re too pressed for time to read the piece, Hersh asserts in the January 7, 2016 issue of the London Review of Books that Dempsey engaged in a secret plan to lure the Russians into the Syrian civil war and simultaneous battle against ISIS. Further, he ignored the White House’s strategy of attempting to remove Bashar al Assad from power. Dempsey, acc’d’g to Hersh, thought Obama was all wet in his Syria strategy so he freelanced his own plot.

Hersh, BTW, is a dogged, fearless investigative journalist who exposed the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War and the US Army’s abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad. He also occasionally cooks up the occasional crockpot conspiracy theory. The question, then, is where does this latest revelation fall in Hersh’s spectrum? ]

Cashing In

CBGB’s in New York City’s Bowery district was the chic-est place for punks to hang out in the late 1970s and into the early ’80s. The seediest bar imaginable, run by a guy named Hilly Kristal on a side street rife with the homeless, junkies, broken glass, and discarded syringes, the place introduced the world to the likes of the Ramones, the Talking Heads, Television, Blondie, the Dead Boys, Patti Smith, and countless other heroes of punk.


Even inside the place, CBGB was littering with trash, vomit, dog shit, and strung-out mainliners. The very ugliness of CBGB became its selling point. Punk — and CBGB — symbolized a violent reaction to Middle American sensibilities, corporatism, advertising, music marketing, and the use of personal hygiene products.

CBGB served food, after a fashion, because its liquor license demanded it do so. Nobody went there to eat, believe me. The place has been closed for years now, its frontage now redone a la gentrification moderne.

Nevertheless, an entrepreneur named Harold Moore is opening up a CBGB restaurant in Newark Int’l Airport. Moore says he’ll serve $9 deviled eggs, an $11.50 iceberg lettuce salad, and a $14 hamburger to travelers hoping to recreate the Bowery/punk experience. The only thing is, Moore isn’t going to be serving Hilly’s legendary chili which, acc’d’g to lore, usually contained cigarette ash, spit, and other bodily fluids you can only imagine.

Need I remind readers that this holy land is one weird fking place?

Duh! has named Donald Trump its political liar of the year. The truth-digging organization selects an annual top lying bastard and, really, who else could it be in 2015?

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Our National Shart


Girl Cooties

Ugh! Hillary’s got lady parts. And stuff comes out of them! Gross.

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Please, Click This Link — It Gets Better!

Okay, can we all admit now that Donald Trump is the worst excuse for a human being this holy land has produced in many, many a year?

Okay then.


Hot Air

Sympathy For The Devil

How scared do you want to be this AM? Plenty scared? Okay, Click on over to the weblog, Second City Cop. It’s an anonymous clearinghouse for the opinions, beliefs, and rants of some Chicago police officers.

Natch, since no one’s name is attached, the true and unadulterated feelings of the blog’s author as well as commenters come through loud and clear.

CPD 1968

Not Much Has Changed In 45 Years

What do we learn by reading Second City Cop? A significant number of sworn officers of the law in the nation’s third largest city:

  • Are chronically aggrieved
  • Exist in a state of permanent rage
  • Consider themselves persecuted
  • Are contemptuous and insulting of those they disagree with
  • Despise protesters
  • Deny or minimize the existence of police misbehavior
  • Are homophobic
  • Are misogynist
  • Are adept at concealing their racism with weasel words and code
  • Are xenophobic
  • Disdain everything from simple altruism to government programs designed to help the less fortunate among us
  • Are four-square against minimum wage
  • Hate the NFL as a result of five St. Louis Rams players protesting the decision not to indict Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson
  • Believe that FEMA concentration camps will be established soon

I can go on and on but I won’t. Read for yourself and weep. Chicago has a total of some 13,000 police officers. They carry deadly weapons. They are authorized to take your freedom away for probable cause or on a true bill of indictment. They work hand in hand with prosecutors and the courts against the accused in our adversarial system of justice. Under these simple, basic criteria they can be described as the most powerful members of our society.

If a mere eight percent or so of those 13,000 hold any fraction of the above-mentioned feelings, then a thousand of them are F-U’d and dangerous bastards whom you’d be loath to want to sit next to at Thanksgiving dinner. But they have guns and badges.

Now, try to breathe.

[h/t to Neil Steinberg.]

Art Sells

A huge slap on the back for the son of one of Bloomington’s most beloved citizens, Jack Dopp.

Jack’s been delivering newspapers in our town for decades now through his Bloomington News operation. He’s the guy who makes sure the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the Indy Star get to your doorstep or your neighborhood merchant every single day, regardless of the weather. Pushing 70 but still wiry and quick on his feet, he continues to play for several local slow-pitch softball teams.

His son Michael is an artist based in the Los Angeles area. Michael teaches art at Chapman University in the town of Orange. He also produces scads of paintings and is represented by LA’s Roberts & Tilton Gallery.

Michael Dopp

Dopp Art

Jack tells The Pencil that Michael’s work was exhibited in the big-time Art/Basel show in Miami Beach last week. Art/Basel is an annual series of international contemporary and Modern Art exhibits held in south Florida, Hong Kong, and Basel, Switzerland. This year, the Miami Beach exhibit featured several hundred artists from our hemisphere.

The big news is Michael sold a painting on the first day of the show. Jack whispered a figure in my ear; suffice it to say loads of folks in this holy land would be able to live for a year on the check Michael pocketed.

Who sez all artists are starving?

Smart Kid

Have you been worrying about kids today not reading?


Working at the Book Corner, I know that countless imps are gobbling up books even in this age of smartphones and dumbing down. For instance, Indiana University Maurer School of Law  professor Christiana Ochoa tows her three sons into the Book Corner with some regularity. She tells me if it were up to the boys, they’d park themselves at the shop twice or three times as much as they do already.

The lads dig the BC so much that one of them, Jackson, the oldest at 12, created a video love letter the other day. Watch:

My fave line: “From the outside, it may look small. But inside, it opens up entirely new universes.”

And this kid is only 12?

The future, babies, is in good hands.

Hot Air

Jimmy The Cop

[How about another little something from the Big Mike Archives? This one, from three and a half years ago, is about a fellow I once knew. He died not long ago and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren mourned him loudly and deeply on social media. It struck me that the picture he’d given them of himself was, to use an old school term, air-brushed. I’m not interested in disabusing his grandchildren and great-grandchildren of their dreamy, gauzy memory of old Grampops but it strikes me that some Platonic ideal of truth must be served. Don’t worry, none of those grandchildren and great-grandchildren read The Pencil. But you do. And at least you’ll know my version of the truth.

This piece first ran in The Third City on January 29th, 2011.]

I’m not against the police; I’m just afraid of them.

Alfred Hitchcock

Here’s a story about a Chicago Police officer I once knew. Let’s call him Jimmy. Jimmy Kello.

Jimmy Kello had never been much of a student. He graduated high school by the skin of his teeth. He got married at 21 and by the age of 25 had four kids.

Jimmy and his family lived in a cramped apartment. He’d learned a minor trade and had a decent job but at the end of the week, after all the bills had been paid and the refrigerator stocked, there wasn’t any money left.

Jimmy’s father was a precinct captain. Old Man Kello appealed to his aldermen to get Jimmy a job on the police force. Unfortunately, Jimmy had to pass the patrolman’s test in order to get into the academy. And Jimmy, as I’ve said, never had been much of a student. He scored far below the cutoff point for academy candidates.

Old Man Kello had to request a second audience with his alderman. Some people — scientists and other foolish people — profess not to believe in magic. Clearly, they must not have studied the workings of City Hall in Chicago in the mid-1960s. Old Man Kello asked the alderman what he could do. The alderman said, “Doan worry about it.”

Before you could say abracadabra Jimmy Kello was in the police academy.

After graduation, Jimmy was assigned to a station in a Puerto Rican neighborhood. He’d never cared much for Puerto Ricans, although he would freely admit they were preferable to the Blacks.

The young toughs in the neighborhood learned the name Jimmy Kello in record time. Jimmy, they discovered, liked to bounce things off their heads when they were in the lockup. He learned early on to bounce inanimate objects off their heads because once, after bouncing his fist off one punk’s head, he wound up with a broken hand. Some toughs have awfully hard heads.

As time went by, Jimmy began to bounce things off punks’ heads even out on the streets. And he became a tad careless about whose head he bounced things off. More than a few Puerto Rican young men who’d never before had any trouble with the law soon were walking around Chicago’s Northwest Side with lumps on their skulls.

The district commander on more than one occasion had to call Jimmy Kello in for a heart to heart chat about the etiquette of brutality. The commander advised Jimmy that bouncing objects off innocent kids’ heads was frowned upon, mainly because such actions cluttered up the commander’s desk with complaints.

After Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated and the West Side went up in flames, Jimmy drew assignments in the riot zone. His relatives wrung their hands and fretted for his continued health. “Doan worry,” Jimmy said, “I’ll be okay.”

He said this with a little smile on his face, as though he looked forward to the challenge.

After the rioting, Jimmy would boast that he and some trusted colleagues had dragged numerous young black men into gangways and bounced things off their heads as well as other other parts of their bodies. Every time he recounted these warm memories, he’d beam.

Just a few months later, antiwar protesters promised to come to Chicago to disrupt the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Jimmy again drew assignments to the protest zones. In the days leading up to the convention, he told family and friends he couldn’t wait for the hippies and Yippies to start something. He’d straighten them out, he promised. He had a dreamy look in his eyes when he’d say this.

Chicago 1968

Happy Days

Jimmy loved his job. In addition to affording him the opportunity to bounce things off young men’s heads, he met a lot of people who were eager to be his friend. In Chicago, knowing the cop on the beat could be more valuable for a businessman than having an unlimited line of credit. For instance, if a man sold used cars and one of his customers missed a payment, having the cop on the beat ring the deadbeat’s doorbell at three in the morning would ensure promptness in the ensuing months.

By providing such services, Jimmy reaped many rewards. He was able to buy mint-condition used cars at cost. He rarely paid for Italian knit shirts and alligator shoes. He had carte blanche at every restaurant in the district.

Even though a patrolman’s salary wasn’t much more than what he’d earned as a tradesman, Jimmy was able to scrape up enough money to buy a more spacious home in the suburbs. When a nosy family member asked Jimmy if it wasn’t true that policemen had to live in the city, Jimmy merely said, “Doan worry. I use my old man’s address in the city.”

Sadly, Jimmy’s life wasn’t all sweetness and light. Yes, there were problems. The test of a man is how he handles adversity. Jimmy’s wife — let’s call her Sharon — had begun to make unreasonable demands. She insisted, among other things, that he spend more time at home with her and the four kids.

Jimmy knew it wouldn’t be easy for him to do this considering the other woman he’d been seeing for years also was demanding more and more of his time. And this other woman had a lot of money. Jimmy weighed the virtues of home and family against the virtues of a lot of money.

The internal debate caused Jimmy to become edgy.

In the past, Jimmy had only hit Sharon with his open hand. He felt it was only right and fair, considering he was a lot bigger and stronger than she was. Plus, he might have reasoned, slaps wouldn’t leave black and blue marks.

But as the women in his life became more demanding Jimmy found it impossible to maintain his husbandly discipline. Now he began to slug his wife with his fists.

Sharon assumed slugging was against the law so she called the police. When officers would show up at the door, Jimmy merely flashed his badge at them and they’d go away. After the calls became too frequent to ignore, the responding officers suggested that Jimmy might start thinking about taking it easy on his wife. Jimmy didn’t appreciate their unsolicited advice. “Doan worry about it,” he’d say frostily.

One evening Sharon’s parents decided to drop in for a visit. When Sharon answered the door, her mother gasped. Sharon’s face was swollen and discolored. It appeared as though her jaw was broken.

By coincidence, Jimmy at that moment remembered an important engagement. He dashed out the back door and squealed away in his car without even saying hello to his in-laws.

Happily, Sharon’s jaw was not broken.

A few months later, Jimmy again became displeased by Sharon’s demeanor. Perhaps Jimmy had heard that it’s best for a fighting couple to go to different rooms and let their emotions cool down for a while. Sharon ignored his suggestion they do this. Jimmy felt compelled to throw her down the stairs.

As Sharon lay on the basement floor, mewling in pain, Jimmy remained upstairs where his emotions did indeed cool down. Presumably he wondered why Sharon wasn’t as level-headed as he was.

Not long after that, Sharon lay in a hospital bed after surgery. The doctors had successfully repaired her ruptured discs and shattered vertebrae. Sharon opened her eyes and saw Jimmy sitting at her bedside.

Through her haze, Sharon imagined she heard him say he was leaving her. She thought it must be an anesthetic-induced dream so she allowed herself to drift back to sleep. When she got back home, she found that Jimmy indeed had moved all his belongings out.

Now Sharon was forced to get a job and support her four kids herself. She was reasonably good looking and still young, so she learned to be a bartender. Taking home a wad of tip cash every night eased her burden since Jimmy felt child-support payments were an undue burden on a still-young patrolman with a new family.

Yes, Jimmy’s girlfriend, the woman with a lot of money, had become pregnant.

Every time Sharon phoned him to ask where his monthly check was, he’d tell her to go pound sand.

That’s an old Chicago cop term — go pound sand. Chicago cops have a way with words.


Go Pound Sand

Jimmy’s soon-to-be ex-wife hired a lawyer and asked a judge to force Jimmy to contribute to the financial well-being of his first family. The judge issued a subpoena for Jimmy to appear in court. Oddly, even though the process servers knew precisely where Jimmy worked, they reported back that they couldn’t find him. It may only have been a coincidence that the process servers were moonlighting Chicago policemen.

Soon, Jimmy told his commander that he couldn’t work because he’d slipped and hurt his back while throwing some Puerto Ricans into a paddy wagon. Jimmy was found by Chicago Police Department doctors to have suffered a work-related injury and was given workman’s compensation. The doctors ruled that it would be impossible for him to sit or stand for long stretches at a time without experiencing debilitating pain. He’d never have to work again, yet he’d continue to draw his policeman’s salary.

Jimmy new wife, the one with a lot of money, bought him a small restaurant and he went back to work anyway. As the eatery’s proprietor, he’d stand or sit for long periods of time. Somehow Jimmy endured the agony. In fact, people who visited his restaurant reported that Jimmy had never looked better.

Sharon eventually got by. She almost lost her home on a number of occasions and the telephone was shut off once or twice. But the kids grew up, she found someone else, and has been reasonably happy ever since.

I happened to see Jimmy’s Facebook page the other day. He’s posted a few pictures of his family and his home. His grandchildren and great-grandchildren sit around him in the photos and gaze at him lovingly but he looks awfully unhappy.

At the top of the page, where it shows what his occupation is, he’s typed in “Chicago Police Officer.”

Perhaps he misses bouncing things off people’s heads.

Hot Air

Woe Is Us

Someone who’s reasonably close to me (a blood relative, to tell the truth) sent me another in a series of outraged email blasts last night about how Christians in this holy land are outnumbered and persecuted.

It goes something like this:

1) President Obama canceled America’s traditional National Day of Prayer, “under the ruse of ‘not wanting to offend anyone.'” Whatever that means.

2) Next thing you know, President Obama is cool with “a National Day of Prayer FOR THE MUSLIM RELIGION.” The caps are not mine, of course. This Muslim prayer fest was supposedly held “on Capitol Hill, beside the White House,” which, alert readers will note, is a location that doesn’t exist. The White House is approximately 1.6 miles from the US Capitol.

3) The e-blast concludes, “I guess it Doesn’t matter If ‘Christians’ Are offended by this event – We obviously Don ‘t count as ‘anyone’ Anymore.” All sic — I make typos in these posts, sure, but nothing this fercockt.

Anyway, the self-pitying going on in these memes is breathtaking. Nobody loves us, the President is out to get us, the Muslims get all the good days of prayer, and, poor us, we’re just nobodies.


I immediately consulted Snopes and PolitiFact and even a site called The Christian Century, all of which debunk the entirety of the email. Thus armed, I began to pound out a response to my relative saying, Sheesh, man, this is all hogwash and, on top of it, if you’re gonna disseminate bald-faced untruths, at least make them a bit contemporary; this particular meme came out in 2012 and was debunked so fast the original emailers’ forefingers hadn’t even come up off the Send button yet.

Then the second thought hit me. You know, I told myself, no matter what I say, my Christian relative isn’t going to believe me. Nor will he change his mind about how President Obama loves the Muslims way better than the poor, poor Christians.

So I deleted the draft response I’d started typing.

Sometimes just shutting up is the best response.

[BTW: Don’t think I’m passive-aggressively speaking to my relative through this post. I’m not. He doesn’t read the Pencil. Poor guy.]

The Wild, Wild West

So, in researching the above entry, I came upon the website of one Allen B. West, who trivia fanatics might recall ran for president in the early Republican primaries in 2012. West is about as wingnutty Right as they come. Rick Santorum prob. reads West’s screeds and goes, “Whoa, dude!”


Allen West

West yesterday wrote about an “outrageous ‘coincidence.'” Apparently, Barack Obama, friend to all Muslims, especially those who behead Westerners, sent some kind of thank you message to a mosque in Oklahoma City “which just happens to be the mosque of the Oklahoma beheader, Alton Nolen.”

Nolen is the guy who allegedly beheaded a co-worker in a Sooner State factory the other week. Naturally, we must conclude President Obama was thanking the members of the mosque for producing one among their number who could slay an innocent American in the most gruesome way imaginable.

West read about this on the thankfully-dead Andrew Breitbart’s “news” site. The equally wingnutty Daily Caller echoed the scoop.


I’d have figured this kind of craziness would have stopped by now. I mean, B. Obama is going to be out of office in a short two and a quarter years. He can’t run again. The Lunatic Right does not need to concoct crazy stories or make illogical leaps about him anymore.

Yet they’re still doing it!

I know this is going to sound odd, coming from a guy who volunteered for the Obama campaign in Kentucky in 2008, but I’m getting to the point where I can’t wait for January 2017 to come around. Assuming, of course, the Far, Far Right will stop spewing their insanity once BHO moves out of the White House. The silence will be golden.

Then again, our next Prez may very well be a woman. Hmm. I may have spoken too soon.

Security Matters

Just to put our current Secret Service scandal in perspective, I guy I know who was born in Germany and still lives half the year there came into the Book Corner today and asked me a simple question:

Do you lock your doors at home?

Why sure, I told him. He said, “I do too.”

See, this fellow’s been away from B-town for a few weeks and he’s just catching up with the national news. The fact that a man climbed the fence surrounding the White House, ran some 75 yards across the lawn, entered the building, and then was able to prance around in the place before he was eventually captured — all the while carrying a knife in his pocket — simply amazed my German acquaintance.

“Why,” he asked, “wasn’t the door locked?”



Sometimes we miss the simplest things when trying to figure out the issues of the day.


Our spy guys have been caught unawares any number of times within the past half century or more.

Sure, we buy into the myth that the world is teeming with spies from many nations, all peeping into office windows and over transoms, learning what the enemy is up to to protect us from some arch-criminal gang that wants to nuke New York or Beijing.

True enough, even I feel better imagining a cadre of loyal Americans who are protecting me, my family and friends, and my fellow citizens from the horror of the mushroom cloud — this despite the fact that it’s virtually impossible for any group other than a rich nation to design, build, maintain, aim, and deliver a nuclear bomb. And even if, say, al Qaeda or ISIS should shoplift a thermonuclear device, their ability to handle it, arm it, fuse it, and make it transform Indianapolis into a gargantuan frying pan just doesn’t exist.

Mushroom Cloud

No Worries

So, the truth of the matter is that our spies’ job pretty much has devolved to making sure the other countries on this planet don’t interfere with our corporations’ ability to do business anywhere they’d like with as little interference as possible. Yet, even in those countries where our business is so important that our armies, air force bases, and aircraft carriers are positioned just so to scare the poo out of their leaders, lest they get funny ideas like, Hey, that oil under our land is really ours, our spies are far worse at their jobs than reporters for TMZ are at theirs.

Otherwise, how to explain the sudden, unforeseen rise of ISIS?

Spies are weirdos. They’re sneaky, good liars, addicted to adrenaline, and willing to undertake operations that just might land them in a foreign prison or killed. They are not tuxedo-clad Lotharios who play baccarat at Monte Carlo and have excruciatingly specific guidelines for how their martinis are mixed.

From "Dr. No"


Also, spies all too often possess the loyalty of a tomcat. Flipping a spy from the other guy’s side to yours is about as easy as opening a tuna can when you hear a meow outside your back door.

This holy land’s spies devote their formidable energies to dirty tricks rather than real intelligence gathering. Let’s bring the discussion down to a more local level. Back in the late 1960s, the Chicago Police Department, like many big city cop ops, ran something called the Red Squad. It was a secret group of cops whose job it was to infiltrate groups whom the city’s bosses had decided were threats to peace and order.

They grew their hair, wore beards, left their badges and service revolvers at home, clad themselves in worn jeans and army fatigue jackets, and tried to mix in with hippie and Yippie protesters. They stood out like sore thumbs. Some leaders of the 1968 Democratic Convention protests even used the Red Squadders assigned to them as drivers.

Knowing this, the Red Squad more and more devoted itself to cultivating rats within the Black Panthers and the SDS. These squealers very often had personal axes to grind. They had vendettas against group leaders they felt had slighted them in some way or who’d stolen their girlfriends even. One or two of them were flat-out nuts — as in, certifiably insane.

Black Panther leader Fred Hampton was murdered by police and FBI agents along with one other man one early December morning only after he’d been dosed with a strong tranquilizer by a rat the Red Squad had on its payroll within the organization.

That same guy earlier had suggested the Panthers buy an anti-tank missile launcher and fire it at the fifth-floor City Hall office of Mayor Richard J. Daley. The other Panthers told him he was deranged.

Back on the national and international level, America’s spies organized and paid for Iran’s 1954 revolution, tried to sneak an exploding cigar in Fidel Castro’s humidor, assassinated the Dominican Republic’s Rafael Trujillo and Chile’s Salvador Allende, hectored Martin Luther King in hopes he’d commit suicide, and otherwise engaged in capers like dosing American citizens with LSD, just for the fun of it. They armed the mujahideen in Afghanistan, propped up Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and did their best to subvert Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress.

All the while they were missing some awfully key developments: the loyalty that Ho Chi Minh was engendering among most Vietnamese, the planning of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed that led to the 9/11 attacks, the threat posed by the underwear- and shoe-bombers before they boarded US airliners — the list goes on and on.

I, for one, would like a little more intelligence coming from our intelligence community rather than hijinks straight out of a dimestore novel.

Our Father, Who Aren’t In Heaven…

Just a little reminder for those who insist on claiming that atheism is a religion:

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 11.19.53 PM

Um, no, it isn’t.

Glibberty Glabberty Gibberish

Charter Pencillista Shayne Laughter told me the other day she was talking about this communications colossus with her mother when the two of them began laughing uproariously. See, they’d fallen into trying to say the words “Glab’s blog” five times in a row, fast.

Try it yourself.

I think I’ve just hit upon the Pencil’s new marketing slogan!

Queenly Hot Air

Believe It Or Not

So, Saint Ronald Reagan’s infamous “Welfare Queen” has been fingered and her sins catalogued.

You remember her don’t you? During Saint Ron’s first honest-to-gosh presidential run in 1976, he made tons o’hay by railing against a woman who would become known as the Welfare Queen of Chicago. See, flamboyantly white people at the time not only were scared to death of the black penis, they also soiled their pants thinking about the fat, lazy mama raking in gov’t dole checks while she sat around in her house slippers, gorging on potato chips (bought and paid for with our hard-earned tax dollars), while watching soap operas on TV.

Reagan’s target market cared not a whit for poverty, the environment, wars here and there, or whether or not women made 69 cents for every dollar men made. Pish tosh. The paramount concern of the Archie Bunker crowd that Ronnie coveted — hell, their only concern — was whether it would be indolent black women or savage black men who would destroy our holy land first.

Washington Post Clip

Back in the 1950s, a shocking number of pols could feel comfortable saying, in no uncertain terms, that the niggers were coming. By the mid-’70s, that kind of candor was out. Candidates trying reach the then-“Silent Majority,” the one that would shortly morph into the “Moral Majority,” needed code words and misdirection to foist their fear-of-a-black-planet message upon a happily suspecting public.

The future Commander-in-Sleep claimed at a campaign rally in January, 1976, that the forces of good had discovered a woman who’d gamed the feds to a shocking degree. He said:

She has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000.

You can easily imagine RR’s facial expressions and the shifting tones of his voice as he ran down the laundry list of her sins, ranging from golly-gee, can-you-believe it? to righteous rage. He was, after all an actor. And, even though all politics is theater, The Saint was the first thespian-turned-pol to enthrall audiences on a national scale.

Within weeks of that speech, the Chicago Tribune had dubbed the woman, now revealed to be one Linda Taylor, the “Welfare Queen.” Saint Ronnie never had to say it but his crowds knew this in their hearts: There was nothing unusual about her. In fact, she was the archetype, not the outlier. All those lazy bums collecting welfare are living the life, man! They all know how to squeeze blood out of the system. The Reaganistas wondered in private conversations with each other, Why are blacks like that? Within 20 years, America’s attitudes had been so shaped by Reagan’s vivid imagery that a Democratic president would lead the charge for “welfare reform.” The Welfare Queen was dead.

Or, more accurately, the Welfare Queens. Plural. The millions and millions of them. Driving Cadillacs and eating lobster with their chitterlings, all paid for with food stamps and public aid checks. Why are blacks like that?

Through the years, liberal commentators have speculated that Good Old Ronnie had conjured his Welfare Queen out of whole cloth. Even so respected an observer as Paul Krugman once wrote that Reagan’s literal bête noire was nothing more than a “bogus story.”

Turns out Linda Taylor was not only real but her slurping at the public trough was even more criminal than Ronald Reagan implied. Man, oh man, you might marvel, Reagan was right.


Up With (White) People

He was and he wasn’t. Taylor was a cheat, a parasite, and a truly despicable figure. But there was only one Linda Taylor and Reagan knew it. He also knew his audiences wouldn’t care. They craved to believe everybody collecting welfare was a fraud. Men believe, Julius Caesar once noted, that which they wish to be true.

So Linda Taylor did well by herself, financially if not morally. Yet she inadvertently was responsible, in some small part, for the growing numbers of mal- and under-nourished schoolkids, the burgeoning homeless population, and the millions more medically underserved citizens of this great nation in this day than in hers. (Ronald Reagan, natch, was far more responsible.)

Her unique sins became the sins of the whole.

Funny thing is, at precisely the time Taylor was scamming the feds and the State of Illinois, another Chicagoan was engaged in an even more ugly evil.

Beginning in the mid-1970’s, Detective, and later Violent Crimes Commander, Jon Burge of the Chicago Police Department’s Area 2 headquarters on the South Side, carried out and/or oversaw the systematic torture of hundreds of prisoners to extract phony confessions from them, particularly in high-profile cases. Burge and the boys in the Area 2 HQ basement enjoyed beating, burning, and suffocating suspected lawbreakers, all in the pursuit of quick indictments and ultimate convictions. The reported incidents include the shooting of prisoners’ pets in front of them, snuffing out lit cigarettes on suspects’ skin, tying them to scalding hot radiators, and covering their heads with plastic bags until they passed out. They employed cattle prods, high voltage electroshock devices, and old reliable standbys like telephone books and rubber hoses to inspire their subjects to sing. They enjoyed using something called the “violet wand” which delivered a severe electric shock when pressed against a suspect’s anus or genitals.

Occasionally, the Burge boys used their more “enhanced” methodology on witnesses to crimes as well as suspects. The witnesses, it has been reported, were thus persuaded to testify in a manner that would please the officers.

One suspect, who eventually signed a phony confession that led to the death sentence for shooting a police officer, described a typical torture device used at Area 2 HQ: “It’s black and it’s round and it had a wire sticking out of it and it had a cord on it…. [Burge] took it and he ran it up between my legs, my groin area, just ran it up there very gently… up and down, up and down, you know, right between my legs, up and down like this, real gentle with it, but you can feel it, still feel it.

“Then he jabbed me with the thing and it slammed me… into the grille on the window. Then I fell back down, and I think that’s when I started spitting up the blood and stuff….”

Burge and fellow duly deputized officers of the law differed from Stasi agents or Gestapo officers only in the color of their uniforms.

And, speaking of color, all of the Burge crew’s victims were — you guessed it — black.

After nearly 40 years’ worth of charges and several headline trials, Burge finally was convicted of torture, obstruction of justice, and perjury. He’s now serving a 4½-year sentence at the federal correctional facility near Raleigh, North Carolina.

Chicago Sun-Times Cover

Which is the proverbial drop in the bucket compared to the many, many years dozens of tortured suspects spent in prison, at least 10 death penalty convictions leveled against others (since overturned, thanks to Burge’s convictions), and the nearly $100 million the City of Chicago has had to pay out in punitive damages.

Oddly, few outside the shifting boundaries of Chicago’s black neighborhoods thought to jump to the conclusion that Burge’s team might not be the only Police Department crew using cruel and inhuman methods to frame innocent people. Not even after reports issued by the CPD itself and the United Nations Committee against Torture suggested that Burge et al were not really outliers in the force, but archetypes.

No, nobody among the Silent and Moral majorities wished to believe their friendly men in blue, those who served and protected them, would actually torture prisoners. Why, that kind of stuff only goes on in East Germany and Communist China, for heaven’s sake! Not here in the land of the free and the home of yadda, yadda.

And since they didn’t wish to believe it, as Caesar pointed out, they simply didn’t.

Your Daily Hot Air

Masters Of The Universe

ALEC is meeting in Chicago as we speak. You know that, don’t you? I assume they’re refining their plan to control the Solar System.

Solar System

ALEC’s Realm

Because, you know, complete global domination is a half-assed goal for losers. And those who populate the sinister halls of ALEC secret headquarters are winners. How do we know they’re winners? They have money and, in their universe, all that counts is money.

What is ALEC? Bill Moyers presents a swell picture of it here. ALEC Exposed does the same thing here. Or check Right Wing Watch’s mugshot of the gang here.

If you’re too lazy to click on the above links, just know that ALEC espouses, fights for, bankrolls, and — if it has its way — will soon impose by fiat upon us the following, among many other pro-corporate, fuck-you-people initiatives:

  • Stand your ground laws
  • “Shoot first” laws

John Wayne

ALEC’s American

  • The end of public education
  • Schools for profit
  • Defanging environmental standards and regulations
  • Union-busting
  • Deregulating the energy rackets

In its infancy (ALEC is celebrating its 40th birthday in Chi) the club worked tirelessly for prayer in public schools and against the Equal Rights Amendment. Later, ALEC-sters were among Saint Ronald Reagan’s most ardent stage door Johnnies. Now, it is simply the legislative muscle behind the corporate mob.

A number of people I know or am acquainted with are making nuisances of themselves outside the Palmer House Hilton Hotel where the ALEC-sters are perfecting their nefarious plots. These people are to ALEC what mosquitoes are to you and me. And ALEC is employing its very own flyswatter, in the form of the Chicago Police Department, to brush those nuisances away.

The thing is, mosquitoes may indeed be nuisances to you and me, but their bites remain with us for days and days. Sometimes the bites even interfere with our sleep.

Somehow, though, I don’t feel the ALEC archvillains are going to lose any sleep over the buzzing on East Monroe Street. They don’t seem to lose sleep over anything much.

Here are some citizen vids of the protests and arrests:

Meanwhile, corporate media hasn’t yet received the phone call alerting them to the protests. Golly gee, I wonder why!

BTW: If you’re interested in learning whether or not your elected representatives in the statehouse or in Congress are bought and paid for by ALEC, dig the interactive map here.

Now, turn off your TV and let’s do something about these slobs.

The Washington Slurs

In brighter news, Slate, the neo-lib online mag that’s usually as loath to making waves as a man standing up in a canoe, has decided, editorially, it shall never allow the moniker Washington Redskins to sully its portal again.

Redskins Logo

Vintage Washington Logo

Cool. Even though Washington NFL team owner Daniel Snyder thus far has stood on his head to insist he’ll never, ever, ever change its nickname no matter how many Indian groups or sympathizers raise a stink, it’s only a matter of time before the Redskins logo hits the dustbin. And none too soon, I may add.

Then again, the NFL and its devolved fan base really don’t care about trivialities like crippling leg injuries, scrambled brain syndromes, and the families of degenerate gamblers, so why would they care a whit about insulting a Holocausted people?

Redskins Cheerleader

Slurring Two Groups With One Stone

Ah, forget it: The Redskins they shall ever be. That doesn’t mean we have to say the word, does it?

The Pencil Today:


“Women are all female impersonators to some degree.” — Susan Brownmiller


Do American women really want pink cars?

I suppose there are those who do, but do enough of them crave advertising the fact that they have the XX chromosome that it’s worth it to Honda produce millions of the new pink Fit She♥s?

Haven’t we gone beyond this stuff?

BTW: that’s precisely how Honda’s styling the new model’s name, with a cutesy little heart rather than an apostrophe. Ick. And another thing, what would be the purpose for an apostrophe in that position anyway? The whole thing is a mess, I tell you.

Pink Car? Flowers In Hand? Proof She Has A Vagina

Terrifyingly, the new Fit She♥s have windshields designed to minimize facial wrinkles (I’m not making this up) and the AC system helps prevent bad skin.

Oh, you gals!

Back in the early 70s when women’s lib was becoming sort of acceptable, Phillip Morris Company marketed Virginia Slims cigarettes. They were longer and narrower and had pretty little packaging.

The ads for the smoke were everywhere. You’ve come a long way, baby, the brand’s tagline, became part of the cultural landscape.

But that was then. Sassy women were fresh and exotic — that is until they started making noises about earning the same salaries as men — then they had to be squashed. Just a few years later, Phyllis Schlafly and her gang of upright simians successfully stymied the Equal Rights Amendment. Before the decade was out, women’s lib became a couple of dirty words.

Somehow many females in this holy land got themselves elected to Congress and even were named CEOs of big corporations. Heck, there are more female university students than male in the United States today.

And, mirabile dictu, they’re not just going to college to look for husbands.

So even though the wording of our Constitution was never changed to accommodate one half of our population, women seem to be making big strides, even if the Right Wingers and Christian fundamentalists would like them to make little pitti-pat strides in bare feet.

I feel uncomfortable around anybody who needs to blare to the world what shape their genitals are. Suffice it to say I don’t keep company with any woman who’d be hot for one of these pink cars.

In fact, it was The Loved One who insisted on black when we bought our then-new car a few years ago. She’s cool by me.

Who Am I To Argue With The Loved One?


So, our friends in the Bloomington Common Council last night OK’d the plan to build a 168-room Hyatt hotel on Kirkwood just west of the Courthouse.

Yeesh. I smell a pile of Starbucks, McDonald’s, and Coldwater Creeks popping up around that area quicker than you can say gridlock.

Bloomington Tomorrow?

This ain’t Memaw and Pepaw’s Bloomington anymore.


In the lead-up to last year’s scheduled NATO and G-8 summits in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his State’s Attorney, Anita Alvarez, cooked up a law banning the recording of cops doing their jobs on the city’s public streets.

Protesters and civil liberties advocates screamed to high heaven that the new law would allow the cops to act with impunity during rallies and marches. It would be, they feared, 1968 all over again.

Reporter & Protester, Bloodied By Cops During The ’68 Convention

Rahm and Alvarez, whose position is analagous to that of Chris Gaal here, figured they’d be protecting the identities of cops who might subsequently be targeted at their homes for retribution or merely for the hell of it.

It’s possible. Problem is, whenever public officials or law enforcement officers are allowed to work in secrecy, they tend to do things that they really need to keep secret. Like clunking people on the head with their nightsticks.

A Convincing Argument

So, what’s more important? Keeping cops safe in their homes or keeping citizens safe from the cops?

I know where I stand. Police work is a dangerous business. You take your chances when you take the oath. That doesn’t mean anyone who messes with the home or family of a cop isn’t a stinking rat. But we have laws to protect any citizens — including cops — from criminal attack.

We always have to be vigilant against the chilling effect of authority and tyranny on public speech and demonstrations. That trumps most other considerations.

And guess what? The US Supreme Court agrees! Huzzah!

The Court, still dominated by Reagan/Bush/Bush conservatives — believe it or not, refused to overturn a lower court ruling yesterday that Emanuel and Alavarez’s new law was too broad and unconstitutional.

They Got It Right This Time

Next time there’s a mass demonstration in Chicago — or anywhere else in this free country — protesters will be able to record the doings of the cops, just in case the boys in blue have an urge to dent some skulls.

[A Note: The NATO summit was eventually moved to another location where organizers wouldn’t have to worry about mass protests.]


In other Supreme Court news, the Rolling Stones now are older, on average, than the nine members of the highest court in the land.

Early Humans

And that includes Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who in March will celebrate her 169th birthday. She is the only living human to have attended both inaugurations of Abraham Lincoln.

The team of mathematicians who calculated the astronomical figures have said they did not take into consideration the fact that Keith Richards has lived the equivalent of hundreds of years. Had the Richards factor been added to the algorithm, the math geeks say, the average age of the Stones would have exceeded that of the ancient redwood trees of California.

Just Kids


The Pencil Today:


“Democrats always like to brag that their guys are smarter than the opponents and Republicans always like to brag that their guys are more moral than the opponents. But if you’re looking for morals in politics you’re looking for bananas in the cheese department.” — Harry Shearer


I generally rake Republicans over the coals in these precincts.

You may ask why I don’t extend the same courtesy to the Democrats. They are, in many ways, nearly indistinguishable from the Republicans these days.

The last two Democratic presidents have been what used to be referred to as Rockefeller Republicans. Despite hysterical pronouncements by Fox News faces and talk radio squealers, neither Bill Clinton nor Barack Obama are wild-eyed radicals.

Sheesh, quite the contrary. Like the Rocky Reps of yore, Bill and Barry are staunch defenders of those that have it even as they pay lip service to those that don’t.

Oh sure, Clinton and Obama were and are light years ahead of the GOP on things like the environment, race relations, and Supreme Court nominees whose resumes do not include tutelage under “Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS.”

Oh, and I’m not equating the likes of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas with the Nazis. I find this whole people-I-disagree-with-are-Hitler trend of the last decade or so downright infantile. But the Ilsa reference is too delicious to pass up.

Anyway, the Dems who attain high office these days are not quite as crocodillian as their Republican counterparts. But they’re getting there.

If Barack Obama is such an airplane-hijacking, rock-throwing, Islamic terrorist mole, then why has he surrounded himself with so many Goldman Sachs unindicted co-conspirators?

I lay off the Dems because, gee, they’re so pitiful.

I was raised in a Democratic family in a Democratic city in a Democratic state in a Democratic nation. That’s right: when I was just learning who was who in this holy land back in the mid-1960s, my president was Lyndon Baines Johnson, my governor was Otto Kerner, and my mayor was Richard J. Daley. All Democrats.

Richard J. Daley & Teddy Kennedy

Heck, the Democratic precinct captain in my childhood neighborhood, Barney Potenzo, a cigar-chomping, fedora-sporting party hack who visited our house at least once a month just to make sure our loyalty wasn’t wavering in the slightest, even convinced my mother to have the polling place in our basement a couple of times.

Those were exciting days. Some patronage stooges would dolly in the voting machines as well as boxes of supplies and canvasing sheets the day before the election. Then the next day the entire house would be awash in the aromas of coffee, hamburgers, and Barney’s cigar until late at night when the election judges and poll-watchers would be concluding their final negotiations to produce the obligatory local landslide for the Daley Machine.

On Election Day, I’d be sitting at the top of the basement stairs, listening and trying to see as much as I could. I was rapt by the process and the coffee-cum-cigar bouquet intoxicated me.

The first day we hosted the polling place, one of our neighbors, a little old Italian woman who’d finally been naturalized and was voting for the first time in her life tottered into the basement and told the judge she didn’t know what to do.

Barney Potenzo almost swallowed his cigar when he heard that. He dashed to the old woman’s side as fast as a shark who smells chum.

“Doan worry, Nonna*. I’ll take care a’ya,” he said as he put a vise-like grip on her elbow and whisked her toward a voting machine.

(*Nonna: affectionate Italian for Grandma, a familiar term of respect for a superannuated woman.)

In those days, the standard voting machine was an enormous green contraption that must have weighed a thousand pounds. The top half of the face of the machine contained a board with a list of the candidates for the various offices next to little levers that would make metallic plinks when they were flipped.


To vote, one would enter the booth and pull a big handle that automatically drew a red curtain, affording the voter a measure of privacy.

You might expect that I’d hear thousands of plink, plink, plinks throughout the day but we lived in one of the most dependable Democratic wards in the city so most voters plinked once, for a straight-ticket vote, and then went on their way, assured that any reasonable favor they’d ask of Barney Potenzo would be granted until the next election.

Barney would listen intently as each voter entered the booth. If he heard a single, straight-ticket plink and then see the curtain open up, he’d grin at the voter. “T’anks a lot,” he’d say, his cigar bobbing with each syllable. “Gimme a call, y’need anyt’ing, okay now?”

Woe unto the voter, though, whose moment in the booth produced multiple plinks. That meant she or he was wasting precious votes on Republicans. When those few voters exited the booth, Barney would eye them grimly, his jaw clenched.

And if they had the temerity to say goodbye to Barney, the precinct captain might deign to throw a cold, “Yeah, okay,” at them.

So, on this particular day, Barney led the frail old lady to a vacant booth and said, “Now, here’s whatcha do.”

He proceeded to show her the big handle that would draw the red curtains and then he pointed at the little levers next to the candidates’ names.

“Look up d’ere,” he instructed. “Y’see d’at little lever next to Democrat? Yeah, d’at’s it. Y’pull d’at one and d’at’s all y’gotta do. Yer done, see?”

The little old lady hardly had a chance to say thank you when a young, conscientious cop (each polling place had a cop to stand guard) dashed up and put his hand on Barney’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” the cop said, “but you can’t do that.”

The cop clearly was new to the force and from a station outside our ward. He didn’t know who he was messing with.

“What the goddamn hell are you talkin’ about?” Barney roared. “Donchyou tell me what the hell to do!”

“Watch your language, sir,” the cop demanded.

“Hey, sonny boy, whaddya, some kind reformer or somethin’? Mind yer own goddamn business,” Barney said.

With that, the cop whipped out his bracelets and cuffed Barney right there in my family’s basement. It was thrilling.

“I’ll be a son of a bitch,” Barney hollered.

“You’re under arrest,” the cop said.

I couldn’t wait to see the news that night, certain this little drama would be the lead story. (To my great disappointment, Barney’s arrest wasn’t even mentioned; I hadn’t fully realized yet what a huge city I lived in and how many times this scenario was probably played out in a hundred polling places that day.)

The rest of the voters and poll-watchers and election judges froze. No one could speak. It was as if they were watching a natural disaster slowly unfold before their eyes, a tornado maybe, or an earthquake. My mother wrung her hands.

As the cop led Barney out of the basement, the precinct captain shouted over his shoulder toward the Democratic election judge, “Call Louie!”

Louie Garippo was the Democratic Committeeman of the 36th Ward. The committeeman was the real power in the ward. The alderman usually answered to him. The 50 ward committeemen met every year with the Big Potato himself, Mayor Daley, to choose a slate for the upcoming election. They seemed to have an innate sense of what the Mayor wanted and would act accordingly.

In return, the Mayor allowed them a pro-rated number of patronage jobs to disburse, based on their relative loyalty and their most recent voter turnout. In the 36th Ward, Louie Garippo was so powerful he could have snapped his fingers and ordered the firing of every cop in the Austin District police station and replaced them with elementary school patrol boys.

The Democratic election judge asked Ma if he could use the phone and then raced upstairs to call Louie. “Y’better get over here quick,” he said into the receiver.

Louie arrived in a matter of minutes. He listened as the judge told him what’d happened. “I’ll be goddamned,” Louie said. Then he asked Ma for the phone.

“Hiya, Commander, this is Mr. Garippo of the 36th. I want you to do something for me,” he said into the receiver.

Louie was only on the phone for a scant few moments. After he hung up, he passed me and tussled my hair. “Hey, you’re gettin’ to be a big boy now,” he said. “I bet you can’t wait until you’re old enough to vote.”

“No sir,” I said.

My mother smiled even though she was still wringing her hands.

And before I knew it, there was Barney Potenzo, sauntering back into our basement, looking for all the world like a cat with feathers sticking out of his mouth.

He’d been chauffeured back to our home in a squad car driven, of course, by a different cop than the one who’d arrested him.

Barney’s Limousine

When he saw Louie, he gushed. “T’anks a lot, Mr. Garippo,” he said. “Some kinda punk kid, that police officer, huh?”

Louie Garippo only grunted. He hustled Barney to a corner of the basement and lit into him in a muffled voice. I couldn’t make out much of what he said beyond, “What’s the matter with you? Don’t you know any better than to….”

The new police officer on duty locked the door at six o’clock. The judges and poll watchers counted, negotiated, and drank coffee until two in the morning. Not that there was much to count other than an overwhelming number of straight Democratic votes. But Mayor Daley had a policy of holding back vote counts until after the Republican precincts in suburban DuPage County had reported.

Once he knew the Republican totals, then he could release a sufficiently higher number of votes from the city. The incumbent President Johnson destroyed Barry Goldwater in our precinct, as he did around the country that day. It was one of the greatest landslides in American history.

Who knows, maybe the Republicans learned something that day. The next presidential election year, 1968, saw Richard Nixon, utilizing the Southern Strategy, grab the White House.

The Republicans probably were tired of having elections stolen from them. The Dems, they knew, had ballot box-stuffing and jiggered vote counts down pat. The Republicans could never beat them at that game.

So, they pulled the scary black man out of their hat. Over the years, the GOP has utilized any number of scary bogeymen to counterbalance Democratic prestidigitation. There’ve been the commies, the fags, liberated women, atheists who won’t allow our kids to pray in school, brown terrorists, Manchurian Candidates, and socialists.

It’s a hell of a lot more efficient strategy than depending on cigar-chomping party hacks to turn in manufactured vote counts. In fact, the Dems probably don’t even know how to steal a vote anymore.

But the Republicans never run out of bogeymen to scare the electorate with.

That’s why I go easy on the party of my childhood.

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